Functional Movement Screening (FMS)

The Functional Movement Screening, or FMS, is a series of exercises used to recognize upper-body, lower-body and core imbalances and dysfunctions. Or, simply, weaknesses in your muscles and issues in you movements. It's likely that if you have any pain that isn't due to an illness, an experienced person can use the FMS to uncover what's causing that pain. If these weaknesses and issues are not corrected, it been shown that you have an increased risk of injury.

In additional to the screening, the FMS also has a series of exercises to address the imbalances and dysfunctions.

For example, let's say your lower back has been bothering you lately. You've been to a doctor and they say there's nothing medically wrong with you, that maybe you just "twisted" it. Via a functional movement screening test, it may be discovered that you are very tight in your upper back and have a weak core. So without realizing, everyday you compensate for this by over-using your lower-back, which is already relatively weak. You may get relief from you're lower-back pain by strengthening your core and gaining more flexibility in your upper-back.

Following is a brief overview of the 7 exercises that make up the functional movement screening. This is by no means going to give you the information you need to become an FMS expert. Books are written just about the FMS test, so my one page of information is just topic. But by just performing the tests, and seeing what your results should be, you may notice some issues and look for more information.

If you have any questions about the test or your results, please feel free to contact me. I'm a certified personal trainer with FMS training, experience giving functional movement screenings, evaluating the results, and creating exercise routines to address any issues.

* If at any time you feel any pain during these screenings, stop immediately.

1. Deep Squat

  • Stand. Place feet shoulder width apart with toes pointing forward.
  • Put your hands straight up over your head. It's best to hold onto a broomstick or sometime of light bar for this.
  • Squat down as far as possible, keeping your heals on the ground and your arms up straight over your head. Try not to lean forwards.
  • Hold the down position for 1 second then return to the standing position.

A perfect score will have you lowering your body to a point where your thighs are below parallel to the floor, your knees remain aligned over your feet, and your arms remain aligned over your feet.

If you don't receive a perfect score, place a 1 or 2 inch block under your heels and do the squat again. Your likely to notice that you can go further down and keep your body straighter when you heels are raised.

If you're not able to lower your body to the point where your thighs are below parallel to the floor, you may be weak or tight in your quads (muscles in your thighs). Perform exercises to stretch and strengthen these muscles.

If your knees move towards the middle of your body or outside your feet, you may be weak in your outer or inner thighs. Perform some exercises to strengthen these muscles.

If your arms go forwards as you lower yourself, what happened when you put the block under your feet? Was your squat much better? It's possible that either your ankles are tight, your upper-back is tight, or both.

2. Hurdle Step

  • Stand. Place feet together with toes pointing forward. If possible, place a string or a bar in front of legs, at a height just below your knees.
  • Hold onto a broomstick or a light bar with both hands behind your neck and across your shoulders.
  • Raise one foot and step over the string/bar (if you don't have one in front of your legs, step up to about that height).
  • Lower that foot to the floor on the opposite side of the string/bar, touching your heel to the floor.
  • Return that leg to the starting position.
  • Perform the same steps with the other leg.

Where you able to keep your balance throughout the entire test? You should be able to. Your knees should stay pointing forward. The bar you're holding across your shoulders should remain parallel to the floor.

Any lose of balance during this test should tell you the obvious. You have a balance issue. Start doing some balance exercises, specifically ones that focus on standing on one leg.

Other issues that may result in problems with this screening include lack of flexibility in ankles, knees and or hips. Additional screenings for these issues may be necessary, with exercises addressing problems to follow.

3. Inline Lunge

  • Stand. If possible, hold onto a bar behind you. The bar should have 3 points of contact: the back of your head, your upper back, and your butt. One hand should hold onto the bar behind your neck and your other hand against your lower back.
  • Position one foot directly in front of the other. The front foot should be far enough from the back foot then when you complete your lunge, your knee touching the floor stays behind your front foot.
  • Now perform a lunge. Your back knee should touch the floor behind your front foot. Your body should remain straight, keeping the 3 points of contact with the bar your holding behind you.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Perform the same steps with your legs in the opposite position.

You should be able to keep your balance throughout the entire lunge. Your down knee should be able to touch the floor. The bar your holding behind you should maintain the 3 points of contact.

Lose of balance during this test may indicate a balance issue. Add some balance exercises to your exercise program.

If your not able to go all the way down and touch your knee to the ground, you may have a strength or flexibility issue with your legs and/or hips. Add strength and flexibility exercises focusing on your upper legs, lower legs, and ankles.

And if the bar being held behind you loses contact to one of the points of contact, stiffness in your upper back is possible. Add some stretches to address those muscles.

4. Shoulder Mobility

  • Stand. Make a fist with both hands with your fingers around your thumbs.
  • With one clean motion, bring your one fist over your head and down your back as far as possible, while simultaneously bringing your other fist up your back as far as possible.
  • Have someone measure the distance between your fists (of if alone, try to see the distance between your fists by looking into a mirror).
  • Perform the same steps with your hands in reverse position.

The distance between your fists will determine the result of this screening. A top score is having your fists within one hand length (from your wrist to the tip of your middle finger) apart. A good score is 1 1/2 a one hand length. If your fists are more than 1 1/2 of a hand length apart, an issue with this screening is considered. It's very important to note the distance with each arm on top/bottom.

A poor performance in this screening can indicate inflexibility in your shoulders, among other muscles in this area. If this distance between fists is significantly different when your arms are switched, a muscular imbalance may be to blame. This can be an issue that may cause problems in the future, so should be addressed.

There are many flexibility exercises that can be used to improve your shoulder mobility. In addition to stretches, if you do a lot of lifting weights with barbells, you may want to start doing more exercises with dumbbells. Using dumbbells creates additional stretching and requires both arms to lift the same amount of weight.

Additional Test (Active Scapular Stability - Shoulder Clearing):
As mentioned before, any pain during these screenings should indicate and issue and tell you to stop these exercises immediately. This test, related to the shoulder mobility screening, is used just to check for pain:

While standing, place the palm of one hand on the front of the opposite shoulder. While keeping your palm on your shoulder, raise that elbow as high as possible. Perform this test on your other arm. Do you feel any pain? If you do, additional testing of your shoulders should be performed by an expert.

5. Active Straight Leg Raise

  • Lay on your back with your knees flat against the floor or just slightly bent and your arms next to your body with the palms facing up.
  • First on your right foot, pull your toes toward your shin.
  • Raise your right foot as high as possible, keeping your right leg straight and keeping your left leg flat on the floor.
  • Have someone note how far you're able to lift your right foot. If alone, look at a mirror if possible, or try to judge your foot position by yourself.
  • Perform the same test on your left leg.

At the least, you want to be able to lift your foot far enough that it passes the knee on your leg resting on the ground. Your down leg should be able to stay down on the floor, and your body should remain still (no movement of your hips). You also want to have both legs be able to raise to about the same spot.

If you're not able to lift your foot past your resting knee, tightness in your hamstrings and hips are likely the cause. You may want to consider adding hip and hamstring stretching exercises to your exercise routine.

6. Trunk Stability Pushup

  • Lie face down on the floor or a mat.
  • For men, with your hands shoulder width apart, place your hands so that your thumbs are in line with your forehead. For women, your thumbs should be in line with your chin. From this position, raise your elbows.
  • Legs together, on your toes, raise your knees.
  • While keeping your body stiff, push your body up into a pushup position.
  • If you're not able to complete a clean pushup with your body stiff, lower your hand position. For men, lower your hands so that your thumbs are in line with your chin. For women, lower your hands so that your thumbs are in line with your collarbone.
  • Again, attempt a pushup, keeping your body straight.

Your goal should be to be able to complete a pushup with your hands in the first position (thumbs in line with forehead for men / collarbone for women). Completing a pushup from this position indicates very good core strength. Completing a pushup from the second position indicates good core strength, but needs some improvement.

The inability to perform a single pushup from the second hand position may indicate weakness in you core muscles. Having these muscles weak may lead to future issues, such as back pain or a possible injury from a lifting or pushing motion.

If you weren't able to do a single pushup from either position, push-up type exercises are highly recommended. There are many types of exercises that you can progress to a regular push-up. Feel free to contact me for suggestions.

If you are currently able to do pushups, but maybe your back bends a little during these screening tests, you should still consider adding more push-up type exercises to your exercise routine.

Additional Test (Spinal Extension Clearing):
This test, related to the trunk stability pushup screening, is not scored. It is used just to check for pain:

While lying on your stomach, place your hands under your shoulders, palms down. keeping your lower body remaining on the ground, lift your chest off the floor as far as possible by straightening your elbows. Do you feel any pain? If you do, it's likely in your lower back and additional testing may be needed.

7. Rotary Stability

  • Get on your hands and knees; hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Feet should be on your toes.
  • Lift your right hand and extend it forward, at the same time, extend your right leg backwards, like you're flying. All your weight should be on your left hand and left knee/toes.
  • Without touching down, touch your right elbow to your right knee.
  • Return to the extended position. Then return to all fours.
  • Attempt to do the same with your left hand/leg.
  • If unable to do this screening without losing your balance, try by extending your right arm and left leg simultaneously, then touching your right elbow to left knee under your body. Repeat with left arm, right leg.

Oh, how I love giving this screening. Even the most over-confident fitness fanatics I've done FMS to have trouble with the first position (same side arm and leg). Their assumption is that it's impossible, so I practiced and practiced that position until able to do it. So yes, it can be done.

The inability to do either of these screenings shows a lack of stability, or balance.

Perform these screenings with your exercise routine. They can be used within your warmup or cooldown. An exercise called the bird dog is a great exercise to add. The bird dog can be done on one side (like the first position of this screening test, or diagonally (the second position). This exercise is not only good for you balance, but also for flexibility, hip mobility, and abs.

Additional Test (Spinal Flexion Clearing):
This test, related to the rotary stability screening, is not scored. It is used just to check for pain:

Return to the hands and knees position. Rock your hips back to your heels. Now lower your chest to your knees and reach your hands in front of your body as far as possible. If any pain is felt, additional testing to find the cause of the pain may be necessary.

Return to our Fitness Tests main page.

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